Start with a twenty-something food critic with a penchant for finding herself in hot water. Mix with the vibrant sights and sounds of the Florida Keys. Stir in a cast of characters as colorful as festival on Mallory Square, and you have the makings of the Key West Food Critic Mysteries, a delicious series of novels by Lucy Burdette (pseudonym for Key West writer Roberta Isleib.)
A New Jersey native, Isleib earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and spent 13 years in private practice. When she met her husband, a golf enthusiast, she became interested in the psychology of the game. “In most sports, there’s a lot of movement and not much time for mental examination. Not so in golf,” she says. She decided to use her observations to create a series of articles about the psychology of golf.
Isleib describes her transformation from sports psychology to fiction writing as “accidental.” “I was always a serious devourer of fiction, particularly mysteries, but I never thought I could write it,” she says. “In school, I’d heard people say that I was a good writer, so I felt I could write articles. But fiction evolved.” A friend suggested that she try writing a mystery, so she used her golf articles as the basis for Six Strokes Under, the story of Cassie Burdette, a young woman trying to break into the LGPA Tour. Four more Cassie Burdette Golf Mysteries followed: A Buried Lie (2003), Putt to Death (2004), Fairway to Heaven (2005), and Final Fore (2006).
Isleib’s next three books, Deadly Advice (2007), Preaching to the Corpse (2007) and Asking for Murder (2008) had a more psychological focus. These Advice Column Mysteries center on the exploits of Dr. Rebecca Butterman, a psychologist/advice columnist and amateur sleuth. Isleib did not find the crossover from psychology to mystery much of a stretch. “Writing mystery is a lot like psychology,” she explains. “You’re presented with a problem to solve, you sort through the clues, and at the end, you learn why the problem occurred.”
The Key West Food Critic Mysteries took Isleib in a new direction, so much so that she decided to write the books under a new name. “My editor suggested a pseudonym to differentiate the Food Critic Mysteries from the other two series,” she says. Isleib describes the books as “cozies, much lighter than the others,” and chose the name Lucy Burdette because it was her grandmother’s. The first book in the series, An Appetite for Murder (2012) introduced Hayley Snow, fledgling food critic for a Key West lifestyle magazine. When the magazine’s owner dies after eating a poisoned key lime pie, Hayley becomes a suspect and must find the real killer to prove her innocence. Isleib/Burdette admits that Hayley has “the same sense I had at 25 when I was trying to figure out what I was meant to do with my life.”
The sequel, Death in Four Courses, has Hayley implicated in the death of a superstar food critic. In the next book, Topped Chef, Hayley investigates the death of restaurant owner who was the recipient of her first negative review. Book four, Murder with Ganache, centers on Hayley’s attempt to clear her step-brother’s name when he becomes the prime suspect in a murder investigation.The fifth book, Death With All the Trimmings, celebrates Christmas in Key West with Hayley searching for an arsonist and a killer who has her in his sites. “There are so many neat things happening in Key West at Christmas,” Isleib says, “I thought it would be a great time for the setting.”
Fatal Reservations, the sixth book in the series, features one of Hayley Snow's dear friends in trouble--Lorenzo the tarot card reader. In April 2016, Killer Takeout was published, the last book contracted by NAL/Obisidian. "This book takes place at the craziest festival of the year in Key West, FantasyFest,” Isleib says. “I also threw in a hurricane. But it was a bittersweet book, as I thought it was the end of the series. I'm delighted to report that Crooked Lane Books has bought two more books, so Hayley Snow and gang will continue their adventures!"
Isleib enjoys introducing mystery lovers to the people of Key West and making readers feel like a part of that community. As an added bonus, Isleib ends each book with recipes for dishes mentioned in the story. “I get a kick out of people who say I’ve made them hungry, she says. “That’s fun too.”
For more about Roberta Isleib/Lucy Burdette, visit the author’s website at www.robertaisleib.com.